Eliza Carthy,
Anglicana
(Topic, 2002)

After a few excursions into pop music (Red and Angels & Cigarettes), Eliza Carthy, the frighteningly gifted daughter of Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson, returns to English traditional music with the wittily titled Anglicana.

The thumping rhythms of the first cut, "Worcester City," will likely lead you to expect a folk-rock record, but it turns out otherwise, even if Anglicana would not sound as it does had not Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention freed the musical imaginations of revivalists. More importantly, once you've gone back for a second listen to this dark ballad of murder and suicide, you will be pleased to discover that it is the British antecedent to the song that, in the Stanley Brothers' southern-mountain version, is known as "Little Glass of Wine." Intentionally or otherwise (the link goes unmentioned in her liner comments), Carthy -- like her parents -- has an ear for the older British songs and ballads which, often radically altered, were widely sung in North American traditions.

Carthy is on her way to perfecting a kind of chamber-folk sound, setting her vocals amid generally austere small-group textures, with fiddle and melodeon typically predominating, with other instruments dropped into the mix as needed. There are, however, three fiddle/guitar duets, in one of which -- the only original, an instrumental titled "Dr. McMBE," a tribute to her father -- Martin Carthy performs. On "In London So Fair" Eliza, who is especially appealing as an interpreter of seafaring ballads (as witness the astonishing "Diego's Bold Shore" on Waterson:Carthy's Dark Light, plays piano solo. The effect is heart-stopping. The album ends nicely with a lightly swinging, horn-driven, musical-hall reading of the traditional "Willow Tree."

Though the mood on the CD itself is nearly always somber (a rare exception being the sexy, funny "Little Gypsy Girl"), there is something just plain likable about Eliza Carthy. The liner notes are written in a generous spirit, and she is open in her expression of debt to, and affection for, her parents, to whom the album is dedicated. At the same time there can be no doubt that she is a major artist in her own right. One reflects happily that we are just starting to hear from her and there is, presumably, plenty more to come.

- Rambles
written by Jerome Clark
published 1 March 2003



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